The school campus has been closed for the rest of the school year with distance learning continuing until the school year ends in June. The decision to extend the campus closure was made in an email to the community on May 4. The email, which was from Head of School Mrs. Robin Appleby and Chair of the Board of Trustees Mr David Novak, included plans for the end of the school year and the next school year.
The decision to extend the campus closure was made on May 1 by the Board of Trustees, which considered the protection of the ASL community, how likely it is that the government won’t reopen British schools soon, the complexity of enforcing social distancing if the campus opens, and the stress people would have of getting the virus.
Although some news outlets are suggesting that some British schools could reopen June 1, Mrs. Appleby explained how they needed to protect the ASL community from the spread of the virus, and there was not enough information to be able to open up the campus in time. “With the many uncertainties that we continue to face about the COVID-19 virus, we don’t yet have enough information to be able to feel like we can safely and securely open the campus even in June, which would probably be the earliest that the UK government would even allow us to consider it,” she said.
Another factor in the decision was how challenging it would be to provide social distancing if the school did reopen. Mr. Novak explained how, when making the final decision, they “took a lot of things into consideration to try to determine under what circumstances we would go back to school.”
ASL has made an independent decision to keep the campus closed since the government has not yet decided whether British schools will reopen. Although government advice is an important factor in ASL’s decisions, they decided to make this decision since the American school has a different calendar, as well as the fact that the ASL community wanted certainty.
“The government advice is really important in our decision making, particularly for scientific thinking, but the British schools are on a very different calendar, and for them to reopen in June, they would then stay open to the middle of July,” Mrs. Appleby said.
She also explained how they needed to make a decision so they could focus on other urgent decisions, such as report cards, as well as to make contingency plans for opening as or as close to normal in the next school year.
Eighth-grade student-led conferences are still scheduled to take place on May 27 and May 29 as the school figures out how to move forward with trying to recreate a safe environment for students and parents to hear individual feedback. Middle School Principal Mr. Peter Lutkoski said, “We do have those days set aside in the calendar. And we could use those days or if there’s a different way of doing it that requires we be more flexible we can use other times as well, but there’s definitely an interest in having some kind of experience like the student-led conferences.”
Report cards are planned to be shared as normal. Mrs. Appleby said, “I think in middle school people should just be fine with report cards. Teachers are keeping the same methods; the ways in which assignments have been given to you may be a little bit different, but you are Zooming regularly and handing in work. The teachers feel like they have a handle on how you’re doing, how connected you are, and how much effort people are making.”
Some teachers may have difficulties creating summative assessments, and “there might need to be some tweaks to add elements to the report card for certain classes, based on how that particular class has navigated the distance learning,” said Mr. Lutkoski.
The letter sent by Mrs. Appleby on May 4 mentioned “recognizing our grade 4 and grade 8 students as they prepare for their significant transitions ahead.” The school is exploring ways to give eighth-grade students a middle school graduation while maintaining social distancing policies. “Something that is important to us [in planning an eighth grade graduation is] student voice and opinion on what the students would be interested in having at that time. We’d like to take the time to gather some feedback from students too,” said Mr. Lutkoski.
The email also included information about how they “plan to open [the school campus] as normal” for the next school year but “will also be prepared for any number of alternative possibilities that may arise.
These include spreading out arrival and departure times of students, requiring people to wear protective equipment on campus, trying to prevent large gatherings, and creating more classroom spaces on campus and at Canons Park to increase social distancing. Plans are also being developed in the case that we may not return to the school campus next year, including a late opening or a mix of distance learning and on campus learning.
It is still uncertain what protective equipment will be used upon students’ return. “We’ll have to take government guidance at the time and understand what other best practices are out there,” said Mr. Novak.
Trips, such as the seventh and eighth grade trips scheduled from October 5 – 9, are still under consideration. “We do think the trips generally ar an important part of our experiential education and want to keep them as part of the program, but it’s too early to tell whether we’ll be able to do it then,” said Mr. Novak.
The Board of Trustees and administration are looking at ways to allow students to return to school to pick up or drop off materials, such as laptops and library books. “If students are in different countries, we’ll probably just advise them to keep the laptops until they return in the fall. For students who are in London or England, we will hope to hit a point in social distancing where we can invite them to come in in small groups during timeframes the way we did in March when the school closed for people to be able to return materials,” said Mrs. Appleby. “Maybe they can pick out some library books and hopefully see some of their friends and teachers from a distance in June, and we would give people a schedule for that. But we won’t know if we are able to do that until we see what social distancing requires at that time.”
In case students feel that they are falling behind or are not prepared for next year, “Teachers will do everything they need to do to cover the curriculum for this year, so students should not be disadvantaged at the beginning of next year. However, I think what you’ll find is that your teachers in the fall will be very sympathetic to the fact that you may have been out of practice of being in the regular school day. We will spend some extra time reviewing and checking in in the fall to make sure that anything people might have missed… that they will have an opportunity to regain anything that they missed and learn that material early in the fall,” said Mrs. Appleby.
Mrs. Appleby said she feels “highly confident that the Distance Learning Plan can continue to be successful,” and that “the community broadly is understanding of the incredibly unique and challenging circumstances the whole world is in right now, and generally being accommodative of that.”
Looking towards the future, Mr. Novak said, “We all want to get back onto campus. We think being together in a collaborative way is a big part of the ASL experience.”